Burmese refugees plant community garden - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Burmese refugees plant community garden

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The city of Waterloo is home to more than 2,000 refugees. Using a community garden, Burmese refugees are learning to transition and economically empower themselves in their new home. 

City leaders recently agreed to give EMBARC (Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center) RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps four vacant plots of land along University Ave. to grow produce. EMBARC is an organization that works with Burmese refugees to connect them with economic opportunities. RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps is an AmeriCorps program based on partnership between receiving and newcomer communities who work to empower refugees through economic opportunity.

RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps volunteers Breanna Johnson and Maria Reh created a team with refugees in Waterloo. One of their projects this year was a partnership with UNI CEE focused on reconnecting refugee families with their roots, building on skills developed in the homeland while connecting to local markets in Waterloo. The project evolved into a community garden. 

"They know how to garden, we didn't teach them at all," said Johnson. "They came out here and took control of it. But, we're teaching them those skills of how to sell at the markets."

Johnson calls the refugees expert growers, because they know gardening like second-nature. 

The refugees are growing tomatoes, cucumbers, and even pumpkins.

"I know they're really excited to grow hot chilies, because the chilies here aren't hot enough," said Johnson. 

The group plans on selling the produce to local markets. 

"We had some workshops and taught them about customer service, marketing, how to write a sign, and to explain what it is," said Johnson. "I know they're a little nervous about talking in English. So we worked a little bit on that to say hello, have a good day, see you next week."

The refugees aren't the only ones learning. Johnson says she's learned a thing or two from them as well. 

"Little cultural differences-actually just today we were talking about how one of the women wasn't wearing shoes, but she had a glove on her hand to protect her hand from the dirt," said Johnson. "And I said why? And she said this is what I eat with, I have 5 spoons. I thought it was hilarious."

Johnson says they will be selling the produce monthly at the Friday Loo Market. 

The group will have the land to garden for the next three years. 

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